KANBrief 2/10

VDI and DIN – A trivial difference for occupational safety and health?

Traditional standards are not the only documents describing the state of the art, for example with regard to the safety of products; over 1,800 national guidelines of the VDI (Association of German Engineers) are approved codes of practice which also affect occupational safety and health. DIN standards and VDI guidelines differ however both in how they are created, and in their status. These differences have implications for occupational safety and health.

The scope of international, European and national standards published by DIN may overlap with that of VDI guidelines, for example those governing measurement of atmospheric pollutants. In order to coordinate these interfaces more effectively and to avoid duplication of effort, joint DIN/VDI committees co-ordinate their work programmes. Besides the established standards committee for acoustics, noise reduction and vibration engineering in DIN and VDI (NALS) and the commission on air pollution prevention of VDI and DIN (KRdL), further joint committees have been formed, for example in the area of quality management, statistics and certification standards (NQSZ). The experts in the joint committees should decide at an early stage whether the result of the work is to be a standard or a VDI guideline.

Standards are a proven instrument for occupational safety and health. A good example is the multifaceted body of standards governing machine safety. VDI guidelines, however, also address technical OSH-related issues, such as vi- bration and noise. In addition, they are also encroaching into the area of the health and safety of workers at work. VDI guidelines exist for example on the organization of plant safety and on competent persons for equipment such as cranes, ladders and industrial trucks. In the area of the health and safety of workers at work, it is however essential for all stakeholders, particularly the social partners, to be involved in development of the provisions. This is the reason for the priority enjoyed in this area by the body of technical regulations of the state and the accident insurance institutions.

Standards: the better alternative for engineered occupational safety and health

From the OSH perspective, the overlap of standards and VDI guidelines is less than satisfactory. Both are developed in accordance with strict rules. The multipart DIN 820 (VDI 1000:2006, Establishing guidelines – Principles and procedures; new edition to appear in June 2010) series of standards, however, describes the standardization procedure in much greater detail than the 16- page VDI 1000 (DIN 820 ff, governing standardization) is able to describe the procedure for development of guidelines.

The crucial difference however is that the interested public does not have the same opportunities for involvement in the development of VDI guidelines as they do in DIN standards. Three points illustrate this difference:

  • VDI committees do not acknowledge the concept of “stakeholders” (the OSH lobby, consumers, manufacturers, etc.). These groups consequently lack formal recognition and the ensuing right to object by block vote to a standard, and thus to force the committee not to publish the standard or at least to abstain from voting at European level (For the “block vote”, see KANBrief 04/2008).
  • Experience shows that anyone who formulates a comment concerning a standard will increase their chances of convincing the committee if they also present their argu- ments personally. In accordance with DIN 820, a person submitting a comment must be invited to the comments resolution meeting. Under VDI 1000, however, a committee is not obliged to provide those who have submitted comments with the opportunity to present the objections in person to the committee – a major drawback for experts wishing to present their knowledge in the course of the public inquiry.
  • VDI guidelines also allow the OSH lobby no recourse to the German Consensus Statement, which rules out standardization as a matter of principle in the area of the health and safety of workers at work. Publication under the rules of DIN 820 thus accords the OSH lobby considerably greater influence. Not without reason, the German government also recognizes the key role of DIN in standardization and its particular status for is- sues in the public interest, such as safety and health – for example, through the government’s standards agreement with DIN and its current framework policy on standardization.

KAN recommends that, particularly in joint DIN/VDI committees, committee members vote for documents of relevance to OSH to be developed in accordance with the DIN rules. Very careful consideration should be given before documents are published in the form of VDI guidelines.

Angela Janowitz